Moral Precepts for a Teachable Heart

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The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. —Psalm 23:1-4

The twenty-third psalm is a powerful, comprehensive illustration of the attentive care and watchful protection that the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, willingly extends to His sheep. It is an example that we can strive to follow with our own children as we seek answers to questions that all parents face, such as these:

  • How can I set my children’s feet along the path of righteousness?
  • How can I raise children who will seek God with all their heart, mind and strength?
  • How can I skillfully lead my children to the Father?

A straightforward answer is stated in Ephesians 6:4: “[Parents], do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (NASB). The manner in which we guide our children and the wisdom that we impart to them will directly affect their relationship with the Almighty. No doubt this causes each of us great reflection.

It is essential that parents wisely and prudently lead their children to the true source of love and authority, God the Father.

Because parents are a child’s first known source of love and authority, the child will seek to love and please them in return. Therefore it is essential that parents wisely and prudently lead their children to the true source of love and authority, God the Father. Ideally this will result in their earnest desire to wholeheartedly seek His favor. As the child matures, a natural, gradual understanding and dependence on Christ as his or her personal Shepherd should emerge.

In this section you will find parent guides to aid you in shepherding your child in the fear of the Lord as it relates to godly character. Amidst the entirety of knowledge that you can provide to your child, shaping and influencing his or her heart to fully seek after the Eternal will be among the greatest gifts you can bestow. In effect, you are shepherding your child in the same manner that Christ shepherds you to the Father.

The only wisdom of any lasting value that we as parents can impart to our children is godly wisdom—understanding how to live life based upon God’s Holy Scriptures.

On wisdom and fearing the Lord

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:10). The only wisdom of any lasting value that we as parents can impart to our children is godly wisdom—understanding how to live life based upon God’s Holy Scriptures.

After all, the Scriptures are the authority for guiding and evaluating thoughts and motives, the “intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). As we diligently work with our children to yield to God’s Word, the choices they make will reflect a growing comprehension of God’s authority in their lives—an increasing fear of the Lord.

Often the idea of fearing God is misunderstood. We should teach our children that fearing the Eternal has nothing to do with being afraid of Him. Rather, to fear God is to have proper respect and appreciation for who and what He is. We fear God when we yield to His authority in our lives and reorganize our lives accordingly; when we acknowledge Him in all our ways, understanding that we are accountable to Him; and when He alone is first and foremost in our thoughts. There is no foreboding sense of restlessness when serving a perfect, loving God.

The manner of shepherding

Consider Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry. Again and again, He directed His disciples to the Father in heaven. He modeled how to relate to God as our Father in every aspect of life. Jesus Christ lived and died to glorify His Father in heaven.

Taking our direction from the Chief Shepherd, we must strive to model nothing less for our children. We need to teach our children about God—explaining His character and proclaiming His glory.

Consider your relationship with Christ. How does He lead you? What does Christ willingly extend to you? Is He patient? merciful? comforting? Does He provide encouragement? correction? security?

Now reflect on your relationships with your children. Are you sincerely striving to imitate Christ in each of your relationships with them? Are you shepherding your children in a Christ-like manner?

It is through daily communication with our children about God’s way of life that a solid, proper foundation—respect and appreciation for God’s supremacy—can be achieved.

Guiding the heart

As parents, our directive from God is clear: we are responsible to lead our children in His ways (Deuteronomy 6:7). It is through daily communication with our children about God’s way of life that a solid, proper foundation—respect and appreciation for God’s supremacy—can be achieved. By persuading the hearts of our children to willingly submit to God’s perfect authority in their lives, we begin to lay the foundation from which holy, righteous character will be built.

Shepherding our children in their growth of holy, righteous character is not about controlling their actions; it is about guiding their hearts. The heart is the seat of character—the central core of one’s being. The choices one makes originate in the heart based upon desires, hopes, motives, and affections. A person’s behaviors therefore reflect his or her heart.

Yet thankfully this is a two-way street. Yes, behaviors do reflect the heart, but by changing behaviors, one can influence the heart. Since repeated behaviors set patterns that influence the heart, we can interrupt our children’s wrong behaviors and reinforce right behaviors, gradually directing their hearts. As parents, therefore, we need to work carefully and deliberately with our children.

God’s Word should be central in our homes—dictating how we think, how we talk, and how we react.

We must consistently expose our children to Scripture so they may grow in godly character, glorifying the Father and living a life of goodness and contentment. God’s Word should be central in our homes—dictating how we think, how we talk, and how we react. Our children’s hearts need to become a storehouse of God’s truth.

Ask yourself important questions

Growing in godly character is a process that requires time. The first step in preparing to shepherd your child’s heart in godly character is to ask some questions. What are my child’s strengths? weaknesses? What am I doing to improve and refine those traits? Does my child have a difficult time controlling emotions? Does my child express gratitude? Seeking God’s guidance and insight into these questions is of paramount importance.

One of the best ways to gain insight into children’s thoughts is through listening intently to their words.

Spend some time thoughtfully observing and listening to your child with these questions in mind. Evaluate how you are responding to everyday situations with your children. Are you actively and purposefully teaching godly character to your children? Remember, training is occurring whenever you are with your children. The quality of that training is directly dependent upon you.

Evaluating your child’s words and actions will not be as difficult as evaluating your child’s thoughts. An observant parent will listen and watch carefully for clues that are often available. One of the best ways to gain insight into children’s thoughts is through listening intently to their words. The questions they ask can reveal a great deal about what they are thinking. Likewise, facial expressions and posture can express a multitude of words.

We cannot faithfully shepherd our children to the Father if we do not know our children (Proverbs 27:23). Ask God to reveal to you the intent of your child’s heart as you shepherd him or her.

The importance and urgency of safeguarding our children’s hearts cannot be overstated.

Make a plan

Armed with this valuable information, choose an attribute to begin working on together. When you are ready to introduce a godly quality, sit down with your child and talk about the attribute. Provide a clear, workable definition that your child can understand. Discuss God’s perspective on the characteristic and why it is important to Him. Share accounts from the Scriptures of individuals who displayed—or lacked— the godly quality. Talk about how your child’s thoughts, words and actions will be affected by actively implementing this godly attribute into his or her daily consciousness. Write out the definition and a guiding scripture and display them prominently. You will want to refer to them often.

Guarding and guiding

To help you in this endeavor, in each of the parent guides you will find “Guard and Guide Scriptures,” which were selected to do exactly that: guard and guide. These scriptures are only suggestions; you may find other scriptures better fit your family.

Guarding requires watching in advance for threats, effectually shielding our children with scriptural truths and warnings. Just as our Shepherd goes before us anticipating the dangers we may encounter and strengthening us so that we might not succumb, we must do the same for our children. The importance and urgency of safeguarding our children’s hearts (and training them how to guard their own hearts) cannot be overstated.

In addition to protecting our children’s hearts from dangerous attitudes, we must also be preparing them to receive the “discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NLT). Guiding our children’s hearts to understand and interpret life from God’s perspective entails upholding God’s standard as our family’s standard. As parents, we need to place God’s truth—not weak, changing standards that fade with time—fully before our children. We must trust that Christ will lead our children into a richer understanding of the scriptures as they mature.

Set to work

Once you set to work on a specific attribute, be mindful that changes will not occur instantly. Slow, steady progress will be made as you consistently talk about and apply the quality throughout the days and weeks. Encourage and allow your child to apply the principle. Provide enthusiastic praise for all successes, no matter how small (Proverbs 16:21, 23-24). Refer often to your definition and the guiding scriptures. Instill an eagerness to develop and demonstrate the godly attribute.

Rooting their character in the rich soil of God’s truth, our children will find strength, comfort and security in knowing and serving God.

Don’t hesitate to impart God’s unwavering truth to your children. Rooting their character in the rich soil of God’s truth, our children will find strength, comfort and security in knowing and serving God.

Be diligent in leading your child’s heart in the practical application of the Holy Scriptures in daily life situations. The day will come when all parental controls will be removed and your child will need to face the world. Make certain he or she is thoroughly equipped with a firm understanding of God’s truth. Your child needs biblical wisdom to develop a spiritual conscience that will guide him or her rightly when you are not present (Philippians 2:12).

You can do this!

As you shepherd your child to yield to God’s authority and wisdom, you must work at the most intimate level—the heart. God has already granted your child an incredible privilege by placing him in a home where His truth is known.

You can set your child’s feet on the path of righteousness. You can raise your children to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and might. Your child can have God’s continuous blessing. Your child can become a faithful servant of the Most High. Your child can “dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:6).

With strength and guidance from the masterful Shepherd, Jesus Christ, you can perform the tremendous task of shepherding the heart of your child. May God grant you the uprightness of heart and skillfulness of hand to shepherd your precious little ones.

FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

As you embark on shepherding your child’s heart, we also recommend these additional (but certainly not exhaustive) scriptural passages:

  • Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18)
  • Godly wisdom based on God’s Word (Proverbs 4; 2 Timothy 3:15; James 1:5)
  • Glorifying God through our thoughts, words and actions (John 15:8; 17; Philippians 2:11)
  • God’s protective care (Psalm 61:3-4; 100:3)
  • Commanded to teach our children daily (Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:7; 11:19)
  • The heart, the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 12:35; Luke 6:45)
  • Blessings associated with living a godly life (Deuteronomy 6:18; 7:12-26; Psalm 23:6)
  • David, a shepherd and guide for Israel (Psalm 78:72)
  • God’s constancy (Hebrews 13:8)

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